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Kampe; Brubaker, Gantner, Johnson, Schöne; Chorus and Orchestra of Los Angeles Opera, Conlon. Libretto and translation. Bridge 94000A/C (3)
Franz Schreker (1878–1934) may never regain his post-World War I popularity, but his lushly scored operas are well worth acquaintance; 1918's Die Gezeichneten (The Stigmatized) — yet another Jugendstil-era exploration of the roles of sex, art and mortality set on a medieval canvas — makes a good jumping-off place. Bridge brings us James Conlon's recording of Los Angeles Opera's 2010 production, offered as part of Conlon's "Recovered Voices" program, exploring scores suppressed under Nazism. (Schreker was half-Jewish.) Starting with the shimmering, churning Prelude, beautifully played, Conlon paces the score excitingly. Schreker's style is heavily orchestra-based, with some ariosos and much important declamation.
Robert Brubaker is an intense, incisive singing actor of the type needed for the frustrated, misshapen aesthete Alviano, who has created an island of sensual beauty he cannot enjoy. The timbre of his wide-ranging tenor shows the wear of his tough repertory in occasional dry and tight moments, but he remains impressive for stamina and in both musical and linguistic command of this difficult idiom. Anja Kampe makes a reasonably seductive Carlotta — the forthright artist heroine, clearly based in part on Alma Mahler — who's at the center of the opera's sexual maelstrom. A sensitive interpreter, Kampe offers a flowing, lovely middle voice; the top is not always her glory here. German baritone Martin Gantner shows a pleasant-contoured "extended lyric" voice as Tamare, the handsome, sexually confident count, whose untrammeled lust and boldness eventually win Carlotta's love over Alviano's sensitivity and hesitant nuance. Aptly, he and Brubaker make the most of the text.
Two veterans take the other leading roles. American dramatic bass-baritone James Johnson, an international Wagner singer who's sung Hans Sachs at the Met, is commendably solid as the Duke (of the same Adorno family represented in Simon Boccanegra and La Gioconda). Wolfgang Schöne is the Podestà, Carlotta's powerful father. Born in 1940, Schöne began his high-profile European professional career in 1970. Understandably, his voice shows some signs of age — a less than fresh sound and occasional static on sustained tones — but he delivers his part well, phrasing with authority. There's a huge supporting cast. Tenor Beau Gibson's Menaldo stands out among the arrogant, rapacious nobles who have corrupted Alviano's island with their revels. Ductile tenor Keith Jameson (Pietro) and rich-toned mezzo Ronnita Nicole Miller (Martuccia) fare well playing a "below stairs" couple in a (notionally) comic subplot involving the abduction of yet another aristocratic daughter. Other strong recordings exist, but Conlon's well-engineered, splendidly conducted set is worthy of the competition.
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